MANILA, March 19, 2004  (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - The upcoming presidential election is not just a choice between politicians or personalities, but also a choice between two futures, President Arroyo said yesterday.

"The nation has a clear choice — between tested and experienced leadership on the one hand and gambling on inexperience and uncertainty on the other," she said.

"We can move forward and realize our destiny as a nation — or make a U-turn back to the midnight kitchenomics of the past," Mrs. Arroyo added.

While Mrs. Arroyo did not mention any of her rivals to the presidency — independent candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson, actor Fernando Poe Jr., former education secretary Raul Roco and evangelist Eduardo Villanueva — she apparently referred to them.

"The May elections will be much more than a battle of personalities. It is rather a contest between competing ideologies, between the old politics and the new, between inspiration and desperation, between experience and amateurism, serving as the masks of those who want us to go back to the dark ages that we threw away in the (previous) Edsa (revolutions)," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo warned that the May elections will be a test of Filipinos’ political maturity, "of our resolve to stay the course of stability and growth against the seduction of our populist demagoguery, and against the fleeting thrill of flirting with the untested and the unknown."

Calling herself a tested and experienced "cook," the President disclosed for the first time yesterday her five-point reform agenda she linked to a "recipe" for national housekeeping she promised to work on if she is given a full six-year term in the May elections.

Mrs. Arroyo presented her five-point reform agenda in the 40-minute speech she delivered at Malacañang when she was presented with five books printed by the University of the Philippines –the output of the third UP Public Lecture on the Philippine Presidency and Administration.

Former UP president Dr. Jose Abueva turned over the first batch of books after 34 lecture sessions conducted in UP by 27 Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officials under Mrs. Arroyo, as well as heads of various constitutional bodies who gave their respective assessments of the Arroyo administration’s accomplishments against the promises it made.

Reiterating the centerpiece promise she made in her 2002 State of the Nation Address to provide Filipino families with "food on the table," Mrs. Arroyo credited her "short" stint for having achieved their target.

"To go by this analogy of food on the table, we need a cook who has cooked before, who knows his or her job, who can offer more than leftovers or scraps of ideas from discredited politicians," she said.

Prosperity Roadmap

The President told her audience that she came up with her five-point "roadmap to prosperity" after going around the country since she assumed office in January 2001. She said she received feedback from the people themselves, particularly from depressed areas, on the "changes" they believe will improve their lives and pull them out of poverty.

In pursuing these "changes," Mrs. Arroyo said she intends to focus on five areas of concern as her administration’s "next installment": reforms in government through the streamlining of the bureaucracy; market reforms to cut poverty by half by 2010; assets reform through agrarian and urban land reform programs; agricultural reform through agricultural modernization, and reforms in criminal justice institutions like the Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the judiciary, including prosecutors and judges.

"I offer to our people a roadmap to prosperity, these five areas of government reforms based on the government that performs. What they can only promise, we made a strong start on," she said.

"And once more together we, who have survived the worst of the past, can make the best of the future to our program of fundamental reforms, to build on the strong start that we have made," the President added.

Mrs. Arroyo said that in order to carry out these reforms, she will pursue the ultimate reform she wants to do for the country — amending the Constitution.

"We have to review our Constitution and I hope you will give me the mandate to review our Constitution in order to make the correct transition towards a parliamentary and federal form of government," she said.

Being the lone female presidential candidate, Mrs. Arroyo sought to highlight her experience in governance as compared to her four male rivals, starting from her first stint in government as trade and industry undersecretary, then as senator and later as vice president.

"The presidency is no easy job. It requires great vision, yes, but many can talk about a vision. It also requires the willingness to work hard. It requires the experience to mind a thousand details of national housekeeping," she said.

The President pointed out that "it takes much more than talk, much more than beautiful slogans, much more than a simple recipe to get things done."

Mrs. Arroyo singled out her administration’s successful propagation and promotion of the "Gloria" high-yield hybrid rice as having distinguished her as the "only president who was not blamed for any rice shortage crisis" that repeatedly beset the country in the past.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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